Northern Ireland high court debates abortion and disability

Photograph of the hands of a baby and an adult
Abortion and disability debates continue in Ireland

The Belfast High Court heard arguments earlier this month as to whether Europe’s strictest abortion ban should have a disability exception.

Abortion is a crime, punishable by life imprisonment in Ireland, with exceptions only if “there is a permanent or serious risk to (the woman’s) mental or physical health.”

At the Belfast High Court, where arguments concluded June 18, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission contended that the law should be relaxed, to include exceptions for “serious fetal malformation, rape and incest.”

At the hearing, the Irish government opposed any new exceptions. In regard to the proposed exception for fetal abnormalities, it argued that a disability exception would violate international law.

“The Human Rights Commission want to take away the right to life of disabled unborn children. Not only is this wrong it is also inconsistent with UNCRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities),” Attorney General John Larkin told the Irish Examiner.

Earlier this year, however, the national Department of Justice endorsed the fetal abnormalities exception.

The issue of disability and Ireland’s abortion laws attracted national headlines in 2013 with the story of Sarah Ewart, whom traveled to England to get an abortion after her fetus was diagnosed with anencephaly, a brain disorder. The case triggered the current proceedings.

According to the Belfast Telegraph, a decision is not expected until after the court’s summer recess.